Power of Agency Brands: In Conversation with VaynerMedia



Differentiation, a strong sense of purpose, and a strong sense of your product: how to build a strong agency brand

Creativebrief’s Stephanie Nattu speaks to Daisy Domenghini, Managing Director, EMEA at creative and media agency, VaynerMedia about her recipe for a successful agency brand and the agency’s vision to become the greatest human centric organisation.

Daisy’s view is that agencies are surprisingly bad at explaining who they are and what they stand for considering they all do it so well, all day, every day, for their clients.

She explains that an agency needs a clear differentiator but also room to flex and grow. The world is constantly and rapidly changing around us and any brand must have enough room to move around in that. However, when everyone in the industry is saying the ‘same thing’ a clear differentiator is crucial. Marry the two and you’ve got a good recipe for success, but its no easy feat.

You need enough room in your brand to grow and flex as your world grows around you

Daisy Domenghini, Managing Director, EMEA at VaynerMedia

At VaynerMedia they know they are absolutely perfect for some clients, in part due to being so confident in their clear proposition, but this also means they know they’re not going to be perfect for absolutely everyone.

You can watch the full interview to check out Daisy’s insights here:

Power of Agency Brands interview series

As the agency landscape continues to shift, change and become more complex and the industry grapples with a state of permacrisis, we set out to distil the power of agency brands: why every agency should dedicate time to developing their brand to cut through the noise, win big and just how they can go about building  it.

As part of this, we’ve been chatting to some of the top agencies in the industry to get their thoughts, insight and future plans. Our own Stephanie Nattu has interviewed agency leaders about their own approach to building a strong agency brand, why they personally think it’s important to build up their brands, which other agency brands they admire and more.

You can visit the Power of Agency Brands hub here to check out the other interviews.



Interview transcript

Steph: Hi, my name's Stephanie Nattu, I'm Associate Board Director and Business Director at Creativebrief. Welcome to another episode of the agency brand leader interview series. Today we'll be interviewing the lovely Daisy Domenghini, who is the EMEA MD of VaynerMedia. So, tell us a little bit about your agency brand and your proposition?

Daisy: So for us the most important thing and our ultimate vision that guides us all is to be the greatest human-centric organization which sounds weird as a marketing agency but alongside that the desire is to ultimately disrupt the marketing industry

Steph: What makes your agency brand unique in three words?

Daisy: My three words would be: attention, relevance, and business

Steph: Why is it important to continue to build your agency brand?

Daisy: So ultimately it's the same as anything, if you want to stand out, if you want people to know who you are and what you do, you need to build that brand. You need to build in that same way we would go to our clients and help tell them okay you need to know who you are, what you stand for, how are you different in the market. What's your proposition? Who's your core audiences? What are your products? All of those things encompass who you are as a brand and what you sell and what you do.

I think too often as marketeers we're the worst at building our own brand, right, it's always the afterthought. Like we have this conversation the whole time like 'Daisy your profile on Creativebrief' and I was like I know we'll get to it and I know, the irony is that I know but it's really really important because otherwise people won't know why they need to come to you versus Wunderman Thompson, versus We Are Social, versus a Media Monks, versus Anomaly.

You know all those things everyone out there today is pretty much saying the same thing, they're like 'we're here for the future, future proof your business' it's all the same stuff so really understanding your market and having a distinct proposition is really really important. So, people know exactly who you are, what they're going to get and why they should come to you.

Steph: What is it that makes an agency brand strong?

Daisy: Differentiation. I think it's a strong sense of purpose, a strong sense of your product, like what are your products? What are you selling? Why is it relevant? How is it going to help transform that client's business? It's a deep understanding of that client's business and I think for me the big thing here is it is differentiation ultimately.

We've spent a lot of time here at Vayner really investing in the products we have, really understanding the marketing landscape and ultimately understanding what it takes to win today. There's a lot of agencies who talk about and harp back to what's been going on for donkey's years in the industry, you know the big TVC that won us the Cannes Gold Lion and XXX and then they talk about the future.

The amount of conversations today on AI, and last year it was all nfts. It's almost like the latest shiny toys but what people forget is where that relevance and attention is today. What we've done a really really good job here is prototyping that and really finding a way to help our clients navigate through the very complex world of attention which is more fragmented than ever and helping them really be able to understand their consumers where they are, the platforms they're on and sort of build marketing in a relevant way for today.

Steph: do you think there's a difference between what was a good strong agency brand 10 years ago to today? Are the elements and the components slightly different?

Daisy: I think fundamentally there are some basics which still hold true in terms of brand building right and I think we get lost in trying to make everything very complex. We've theorized a lot and there are some truths to behavioral economics, nudging, framing, all of those things still hold true. The brand elements - what's your distinctive assets? How do you deploy them? Those are all completely true. The way they're deployed, the channels they're deployed in, is what's causing problems because people aren't really understanding that they're seeing it at worst as another channel to cut the same stuff down and put it through. They're really not understanding the nuances and the possibilities in the art of possible within those channels.

So I think the marketing principles often are the truth. We've tried to package it up and made it incredibly complex and ultimately I'd say the number one thing about brand building and marketing is common sense. And common sense too often is forgotten in the board room and applying that common sense isn't it, to not only the client work but also your agency brand, and how you market yourself isn't it. And I think you know going back to what we were saying earlier around you've got to get this. Where are your audience? Where are the right places to talk to them? All of those kind of things, actually, is it clear who we are? Is it clear what we stand for through what we're doing? And how are the multiple sums of what we're doing, building up to the brand we want to be known for.

We talk a lot about this and in the last year we've actually invested a lot in our comms team and we've actually started to deploy our own model that we would put out to clients on our own internal ways of working so really thinking about what is our brand sell? What are those communication pillars that we want to be known for? What are the audience cohorts that we want to go after? What is the right way to reach the cohort? Whether that is thinking about its peers, it's recruitment, it's the next gen of talent, versus its agencies, it's CMO's, its production partners. So we think about all of those things and are now building our brand in that way but a lot of that is again common sense. You can't expect that one thing is going to resonate with everyone, you and I aren't the same. Well probably if we looked at ‘this is Gen Z this is 18 to 16’ or whatever it is, here's your age: it's 19-16 - I wish that's my age - but if you look at that and you go that's a broad blanket statement yet the individuals underneath that are so unique so different that we need to be much clearer on being relevant to multiple member of our audiences. And thinking about, there might be one broader statement, but find out what that is by building it up and finding out what those commonalities are rather than guessing and assuming.

Steph: which to me really sort of sums up your agency brand in many ways when we've spent lots of time on the couch chatting which kind of leads to, what would be your number one tip to other agency senior leaders to help them build their agency brand?

Daisy: So the first thing is know who you are. Spend time knowing who you are, test it put it out there. I think too often we spend hours, and I've been stuck in these situations where as agencies we are very bad at articulating who we are and what we do and what we stand for - we're brilliant at it when it comes to our consumers but we're rubbish at it. The amount of years I've spent in agency boardrooms discussing our propositions the words on our website back in the day it should be on social media nowadays and going is that right? Well actually I think, future proof, yes let's go for that that sounds really different. Then you go to a conference and you listen to every single agency and every single agency introduces themselves with exactly the same buzzwords and you just kind of die a death because it's all wallpaper in the end.

I think it's spending time really understanding who you are, what you stand for but putting it out there and seeing what's resonating, is the most important thing. Before you just sign it off and leave it. And also being honest enough to know that the world evolves you, as marketers should be constantly evolving, so ultimately who you are today should look very different in five years time otherwise you're not doing a good enough job. You need to leave enough room within your brand, to grow, to flex, and to be able to grow as the world grows around you.

Steph: What are your plans for the rest of the year to continue to build your brand?

I think like a lot of people in the industry the first half this year has been crazy and I think it continues with economic uncertainty wars going on energy crisis the world coming into 2023 was a bleak place we're sitting here now with ridiculous heat across Europe climate change noise bubbling through and it's a lot to keep people motivated.

A lot of the first half of this year was just making sure our people were okay and as part of that you know some clients came some clients went but there were streaks of hope. There's been really really strong growth this last part of the year and growth in the right way for us like we know that we're not for everyone we know that it takes a certain type of marketeer to want to come and work with us because we have specific ways of working. You know we've tried to explain them we've spoken about them a lot we are very much from the consumer up we try to remove the layers of subjectivity and the volume of work we're getting out on a daily basis is quite overwhelming for some clients but the ones we've got coming through the door now are showing us and validating that our model is working.

I hope that for the rest of this year we've got a really healthy pipeline we're going to continue to develop in that which is going to help elevate our people. It's going to give them some really exciting opportunities to learn to develop so that we head into 2024 in a really good space like many marketeers and any agency leads right now with focuses very much on finish off this year as best we can but really drive that growth now into 2024.

Steph: and is there, Daisy, a specific marketing or a specific initiative that you'll be doing to help build the agency brand? So it splits into multiple different things

Daisy: so I think one is continuing to double down as I said on that framework of what messages are resonating with our audiences and why so we're heading into 2024 planning at the moment there's lots of different tasks we put out to the various parts of the business to kind of bring information to the table to make sure that we're being successful a lot of it is learning from what we've done: what is working? What isn't working? Where do we need to be? What are the conversations we need to be having?

I think at worst our name is deceptive as VaynerMedia, people see us as just a media agency, we are creative and media under one roof and that is our real sweet spot which allows us, as I said at the beginning, if I think about that be that business it allows us to be held accountable to business results. So I think for me one of the big things is making sure we are doing a good enough job of really pushing who we are completely as that full agency and really resetting that

Steph: How important are ESG Frameworks when thinking about building and continuing to build your agency brand?

Daisy: I think it's interesting because I think a lot about this, when I harp back to sort of what I'm saying about culture, in order for Vayner to be the greatest human-centered organization, ESG Frameworks have to be kind of at the heart of what you do.

We are seeing that it is becoming increasingly competitive and hard to be considered by brands unless we have strong policies within this space but the thing I hate about that and the word framework and policy is those become passive for me they're not action oriented action.

Yes there will be actions and goals that are put within those but ultimately it should be about real change and positive impact so when we created community resource groups, the intent was not just to have an impact internally. The reason it's community is it's got to have that societal change, it's got to have that real sense of. We can go out as our Vaynoir eam who are there, to sort of educate and upskill change the world when it comes to Black rights, you know and when it comes to Vaynabilities making sure that every environment is as inclusive as it can be we look at the actions we have not just internally. But with that impact it can have outside, so that's why we did a collaboration with Rise 365 last year it's why we're working with the National Autistic Society.

It's what we can do to change and make that world better. So I think too often they become board room targets that don't actually mean anything and at worst especially when it comes to sustainability, if I heard the word ‘offsetting’ one more time, tell me where all the forests are? Where are all the trees? Where's everything that everyone's been planting? Because I'm telling you now if everyone was offsetting and that was actually happening in the way it woul we would have more trees here than buildings and it's not it's all pushing things around, other people buying other people's offsettings and true mass carbon off setting should be the last thing you do. It shouldn't be the first thing you do. So I think there are things we need to do and change to move it from being just frameworks to being action orientated to really change and drive change.